Not so long ago, when the Occupy Wall Street protests were happening, it was suggested by not a few people that the movement may have more legs than people expected, meaning that the protests had the potential of spiraling out of control and gaining steam and momentum. But elections happened, and people thought they were getting their concerns addressed in that process. And then the protest was quickly forgotten, co-opted by other movements (like conspiracy theorists) and quickly shelved.
A little time before that, we had the infamous Rodney King riots, which threatened to spiral out of control, as the protests moved from Los Angeles to places like San Francisco and Chicago. But they eventually died out, little was done to change the reasons for the riots, and we all went back to our usual way of doing things.
There’s a certain Mancur Olson (The Logic of Collective Action) and Piven/Cloward (Poor Peoples’ Movements) going on here in which people tend to rally together long enough to get some kind of payout and then quit the movement which has always managed to keep the U.S. from turning into something it keeps kicking the can down an uncertain road. You see, eventually we’re going to hit a point where people aren’t going to just give up on the realization that they can’t get what they want and then go home, but that eventually they’re going to hit a point where the spiral unravels the whole ball of yarn.
Fortunately, we’ve just never reached that point.
Yesterday, Baltimore turned into one of those spirals again, where fed up people took to the streets to protest another police-caused tragedy. People protested, others rioted, police cars burned, and we’re shaking our heads yet again, wondering how something like this could possibly happen. And instead of actually doing something to fix the situation, we’re kicking the can down the road again, hoping that there’s still some road to travel before we come to some kind of impenetrable wall.
What we should be asking ourselves is how much more can the institution stand before we can’t return back to normality again. Unfortunately, no one actually has that answers, and even worse, no one is even paying any attention to the possibility that someone needs to be asking that question. If you look to previous civilizations that had events spin out of control, what has generally been the spark that has lit the fire is the ability for the message to travel from one powder keg to the next. In the U.S. history examples, we’ve been lucky by the mere fact that most incidents of powder kegs going up have been contained in geographical areas that did not spread to others. The Rodney King example was probably one of our closest incidents of spilling over because it erupted in numerous areas before quickly being contained. Occupy Wall Street is also similar in the location problem, but it was quickly contained and forgotten because other things happened immediately after.
What people aren’t acknowledging is that the problems causing many of these powder keg issues are identical, and they haven’t changed any over the years, meaning that the chances of a multiple powder keg incident occurring is not a matter of “if” but a matter of “when”. Racism is still an issue that has never been dealt with. Income equality is an issue we’re never going to deal with. As long as we keep sweeping these types of issues under the rug, they’re going to explode on us and when that happens, there’s no amount of “clear thinking” that is going to cause those kegs to return back to normal.
The French Revolution should have been an example we held close to the chest because it showed us that when the incidents finally erupt, they don’t end until people who are angry enact some type of violence, or are killed themselves. Since then, we’ve had world revolutions happen over and over, where the violence has been absolute and devastating. What did we learn from ANY of these circumstances? People are real shit heads to each other when out of control and when given the opportunity, people will do horrible things to each other before common sense prevails (if it ever does).
So, how about dealing with some of these issues now, instead of waiting until after we tally up how many horrific things we can do to people we don’t like for “reasons”?